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A Different Kind of Medicine

Why I Left My Career in Traditional Medicine to Start Sunrise Health & Wellness Center

I have spent my entire adult life working in medicine, a varied career that spans over thirty years. First, I worked as a medical student, then as a private practice surgeon, doing general and bariatric surgery. While attending seminary, I provided coverage and emergency surgery services,. Finally, I have been providing wound care services for a decade to patients in nursing and rehabilitation homes. But, always, there was a void at the heart of my practice: so often, it felt like I was treating symptoms rather than the true causes of sickness and disease. Over a decade ago, I moved to Florida to attend seminary to attempt to grapple with the way that medicine often felt soulless and ineffectual. I still believe that there is a place for spiritual care within effective medical treatment, and that many chronic medical issues are, in fact, soul issues. But it has only been over the last few years, as I worked in wound care and faced my own health and the weight issues I had grappled with for most of my life, that I realized what I was missing.

Mainstream medicine is almost always responsive and focused on symptoms. However, as a wound care doctor, this became even more obvious to me. At the nursing and rehab care homes I worked at, I often treated people who have spent decades in ill health. Many of them have a series of comorbidities: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimers. After treating hundreds of these patients, I could only think: “Why are we so sick? What could we do to reverse these horrible, chronic issues or, even better, stop them from appearing in the first place?” I realized that, as important as it was to take care of people who were seriously ill, more work needed to be done to try to head off and eliminate chronic conditions before they had grown into the debilitating diseases I was facing everyday.

What was needed was a different kind of medicine. This medicine would incorporate mainstream medicine. I was not going to abandon my medical training and experience. But I could not go on only treating the final outcome without addressing the root causes of ill health. As I was exposed to numerous practitioners and institutions like the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, I realized that a different sort of medicine was possible.

Central to what I have found is a medical practice that focuses on spending time listening to patients. Again, as a surgeon in private practice, nursing homes, and ERs, my job has often been to come in, focus on the immediate threat, treat the acute issue, and then move on. The human connection was missing, and often I felt like I was applying a bandaid when what was needed was a more in-depth engagement and foundational change.

Instead, a deep engagement with the patient's experience and medical history can identify the root causes of illness. These causes can include poor nutrition, hormonal and chemical imbalances, stress, poor sleep and other lifestyle factors, your microbiome, stress, and inflammation.

Once these root causes are identified, real change can happen. The focus should be on addressing these problems head on: making plans to change the nutrition, sleep, exercise, and stressors that are actually making people sick. Rather than just giving a pill for high blood pressure (which can be a good short term measure), we at Sunrise Health and Wellness Center seek to change the factors that lead to high blood pressure. Only in this way can lasting change occur and health be achieved

Adopting this type of medical practice has been incredible, for the patients I treat but also for myself. As I changed my diet, my relationship to exercise, and as I targeted my stressors and planned to engage with and pursue the things that made me healthier and happier, my whole health improved. Importantly, I realized that a healthy, life-giving diet was and should be the first line of defense when it comes to treating chronic conditions.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. There are times when responsive medicine, such as surgery, a visit to the ER, and prescribed medication is needed. I am not opposed to mainstream medicine: in fact, I’ve worked as a surgeon and wound care doctor for most of my life. When we are sick, it is important to go to the doctor. But modern public health research has shown that only about 10%-20% of the modifiable contributors to health outcomes are related to formal medical care (Hood et al, 2016). Far more important are other contributors: Diet. Exercise. Genetics. Environmental factors such as air and water quality. Alcohol and drug use. Functional Medicine seeks to target these root issues where they are rather than waiting until they spiral into chronic health conditions.

In future blog posts, I want to dive deeper into what a true whole person medicine would look like. I want to talk about why I believe in whole person medicine, and why I believe nutrition is so central to health. I also want to talk about the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health. First though, I wanted to chart my own journey to Sunrise Health and Wellness Center and explain why I believe so strongly in this holistic, nutrition based, and whole life form of care.

Hood, C. M., K. P. Gennuso, G. R. Swain, and B. B. Catlin. 2016. County health rankings: Relationships between determinant factors and health outcomes. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 50(2):129-135.

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